Top 10 foods to try in Provence-Côte d’Azur
The French Riviera boasts rolling landscapes, vibrant lavender fields, azure blue coastline... and incredible food. Travel writer Emilie Filou counts down 10 must-try dishes.
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Situated on the southern coast of France, Provence-Côte d’Azur offers miles of rich blue Mediterranean coastline and delicious sunshine food to go with it. So if you're planning a trip to the rainbow Riviera, we have ten dishes to seek out - then recreate yourself at home.
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Don't leave Provence-Côte d’Azur without trying...
King of regional dishes, bouillabaisse is the signature dish of Marseille. For locals, its appeal lies as much in the flavour as in the ceremonial of serving and eating it: first the broth, then the fish flesh, and copious quantities of croutons and rouille (a spicy, saffron garnish) throughout. It requires a minimum of four types of fresh fish (there is no consensus on a definitive list) cooked in a rockfish stock with onions, tomatoes, garlic, saffron and herbs.
Try making your own... Summer fish stew with rouille
No single drink says Provence-Côte d’Azur more than Pastis, an aniseed-flavoured liqueur. Invented in Marseille in 1932 by industrialist Paul Ricard, it is amber-coloured in the bottle but turns milky-white when water is added. A classic apéritif, it is especially popular pre-lunch after a couple of rounds of pétanque (a game of boules played on hard dirt).
Traditionally a poor man’s dish, this Provençal beef stew remains a favourite on southern tables, especially in winter. Beef is slowly braised in red wine, vegetables, garlic and herbs and served with polenta or gnocchi. A popular derivative in Nice is raviolis à la daube, where ravioli are stuffed with the cooked beef and served in the daube sauce. Heaven.
No apéritif in Provence-Côte d’Azur is complete without tapenade, an olive dip made of black olives, capers, anchovies, garlic and olive oil and served with croutons. Numerous variations exist, featuring green olives or sun-dried tomatoes.
Try making your own... Tapenade toasts
Dentists would probably ban the stuff if they could but generations of Provençaux have revelled in the wonderful chewiness of white nougat (a confectionary made with sugar/honey, roasted almonds and egg whites) and the incomparable crunch of nougatine (also called nougat noir, which doesn’t contain eggs). Traditionally a Christmas treat, it is sold year-round nowadays.
6. Omelette aux truffes
The area around Carpentras in Provence is famed for its ‘black diamonds’ (truffles), in season from November to March. The fungi is used in numerous guises – infused in olive oil, shaved on pasta dishes or salads – but it is eggs that best complement its pungent aroma. A staple of gastronomic restaurants over the winter months is truffle omelette (also sometimes called brouillade).
Video guide to making the perfect omelette... just add truffle!
Perhaps Provence’s most famous culinary export (it even lent its name to a Walt Disney film), ratatouille is a vegetable casserole consisting of tomatoes, onions, courgettes, aubergines, peppers, garlic and herbs. It can be served on its own with a good chunk of bread to mop up the juices, or as an accompaniment to pork loin steaks or cutlets.
Try making your own... Ratatouille
In its basic form, aïoli is nothing more than a kind of garlic mayonnaise (the original recipe doesn’t include eggs). So far so ordinary you might argue, except when it becomes the centre piece of a dish: Aïoli provençal complet (or aïoli garni) is a mound of veggies, potatoes and shellfish, all of which are eaten dunked in aïoli. The dish is traditionally eaten on Fridays, when many restaurants in the region serve it.
Try making your own... Aïoli
9. Tarte Tropézienne
Few sweets have as glamorous a history as St Tropez’s signature cake, a sandwich cake consisting of a round, flat-topped sugar-coated brioche filled with an unctuous, orange-flower flavoured cream. The cake was created by Alexandre Micka, a Polish baker who settled on the seaside village in 1955. Film director Roger Vadim happened to be shooting And God Created Woman at the time, starring the sultry Brigitte Bardot, and Micka’s bakery quickly became the crew’s favourite pit stop. Having developed a soft spot for Micka’s treats, Bardot suggested the cake be christened Tarte Tropézienne. A legend was born.
10. Fromage de chèvre
Goat’s cheese happens to be one of those wonderful products that tastes as good on its own as it does in a dish (quiches, tarts, salads). Chèvre comes either frais (fresh, with a mild creamy taste) or matured into a tangier demi-sec (semi-dry) or sec (dry).
Try making your own... Courgette & goat's cheese ciabatta
Have you visited the French Riviera? Feel we've missed a dish out? We'd love to hear your favourites. For more global cuisine and authentic local dishes, visit our Travel section.